Checking in on Father Jim Martin, SJ

Ed Forry

By Ed Forry
When CBS announced last month that its longtime late night comedian David Letterman would soon retire, it didn’t take long before the network named his successor: Stephen Tyrone Colbert, the quick-witted host of the satirical program “The Colbert Report” that appears four nights a week on Comedy Central, was quickly named to the role.
Colbert, the South Carolinian comedian whose ancestors emigrated from Ireland before and during the Great Famine, is also a Sunday school teacher at his hometown Catholic parish in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and three children.
A Jesuit priest, Father Jim Martin, often joins Colbert on his program, and has developed a unique role as a sort of “chaplain” to the Comedy Central audience. Thanks in large part to Colbert’s support, Father Martin has seen his ministry grow across television and the burgeoning “social media” platforms of Twitter and Facebook.

In some ways, the Jesuit is the reincarnation of the great TV priest, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose weekly telecasts in the 1950s were a staple for many American households. It is easy to remember Bishop Sheen using chalk and a blackboard as he gave his half hour talks, always writing the initials “JMJ” across the top.
For his part, Jim Martin has become a prolific writer and spiritual adviser, always available for informed Christian commentary. During Lent, he appeared with the commentators on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, and later he was especially incisive in his commentaries on the canonization of the two popes, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II.
At the end of April, Father Martin told his 70,000 Facebook followers that he was joining a weekend retreat in Gloucester, and those of us who are his Facebook friends received daily messages from him. Here’s a sample:
Morning meditation: This weekend, while I was helping to direct a retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Mass. heard the most beautiful reflections on Jesus’s friendship with women, from my co-directors. The first was on the Woman at the Well, from Kay Hanningan, PBVM; and the second on Mary Magdalene from Joanne Fantini, CSJA. 
Joanne, quoting the New Testament scholar Sandra Schneiders, IHM, said something wonderful about Mary Magdalene: In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection. Jesus charges her to tell the Good News to the other disciples. This is the origin of my favorite title for Mary: ‘Apostle to the Apostle.’ 
But as Schneiders writes, for the time between Mary’s encounter with the Risen Lord and when she told the other disciples, she was the only person who knew about the Resurrection.
For an hour or two, then, Mary Magdalene *was* the church.
It made me wonder: What would it mean for us to embody the church, for us to proclaim the message of the Resurrection with our whole selves? What would it mean to *be* the Resurrection for others?
Evening meditation: 30-second retreat. – Think of the ocean as an image for the all-powerful God. Imagine that as the waves recede, they carry out your worries with them, which are given over completely to God. – Eastern Point Retreat House, Gloucester, Mass.
Jim Martin’s regular postings on Facebook can be like mini-retreat moments. For me, his meditations from his Gloucester retreat are wonderful reminders of that time long ago, in 1961, when I joined 40 classmates from BC High on retreat at that marvelous spiritual enclave on the rocky shores of Eastern Point.
Marvelous times, and wondrous spiritual memories.